|This self-propelled John Deere snow thrower sports a halogen headlight, heated handlebars, one-hand operation and enough torque to eat up tons of snow.|
If you don't want to shovel snow this winter, one option is to buy the monster truck of snow throwers: the self-propelled 1332PE Professional, a $2,249 brute from John Deere ( DE) that sports a halogen headlight, heated handlebars, one-hand operation and enough torque to take on anything Mother Nature can drop on your driveway. To find the snow thrower (the industry's preferred term for snow blower) that's right for you, keep the following factors in mind. Size of the job. How much snow thrower you need depends largely on how much space you need cleared and how much snow you expect. If your driveway fits your car and little else, a 10-horsepower, 40-inch-wide, four-speed snow thrower doesn't make much sense. Alternatively, if your driveway looks like a 200-yard section of the interstate, bigger is likely better. The same goes for the amount of snowfall you expect. It'll take hours to tackle three feet of snow with a power shovel, but you'll look downright foolish pulling out the big guns if all you ever get is a one-inch dusting. Types of snow thrower. There are two main types of snow throwers: single-stage and two-stage. The difference lies in how the snow is tossed off the driveway and the price tag. Single-stage throwers use the action of the auger (the screw-like front end) to grab snow off the ground and toss it to the side. These models are typically best for level terrain and snowfall that's measured in inches rather than feet. And since the auger touches the ground, single-stage throwers are ill-suited for gravel driveways. The upside is that single-stage snow throwers range in price from about $100 to $600. They also come in electric models, such as the 12.5-inch Yard Machine 8.5 Amp Snow Fox ($169).
Two-stage throwers use a slower moving auger to direct snow toward an impeller, which fires the snow up and out a discharge chute. The added force of the impeller allows you to clear snow faster and farther. These models are self-propelled, so they're best suited for deeper snow and hilly terrain. Prices range from $500 to more than $2,000.
Bells and whistles. Snow throwers, especially two-stage models, now come with a host of options: headlights, heated handlebars, electric starters and power-adjusted discharge chutes. Depending on what kind of snow throwing you're likely to do, and how often you'll do it, these extras may make a bad job bearable, or they could be a needless drain on your wallet. For instance, an electric starter is a great way to avoid a sore shoulder from tugging repeatedly on a starter cord in the freezing cold. The Snapper 24-inch Intermediate thrower ($1,100) sports an electric starter and a manual-adjust discharge chute that can toss snow up to 38 feet away. However, an electric starter requires a battery, and batteries can be unreliable when stored in the cold and used infrequently. You'll also have to charge the battery before each season and potentially replace it every couple of years. Save yourself the hassle, and some cash, by opting for a Yard Machine 179cc 22-inch-wide thrower, which retails for just $529. It's got a manual starter and a manual crank to adjust the discharge chute -- no headlight, no hand warmers. If you happen to do a lot of snow clearing in the dark, a push-button start and a headlight may be valuable. Check out the Ariens ProSumer 30-inch-wide snow thrower ($1,299), which offers those features, although without heated handlebars. Why skip the handlebars? Because replacing the heating element is expensive and requires a trip to the repair shop, which could leave you empty-handed while a 100-year storm dumps on your driveway. If you're set on warm fingers, take a look at the John Deere 1130SE ($1,549), which comes with warm handlebars, an electric starter and a muffler to reduce noise.